A slate of highly publicized transfer battles last year let to a growing chorus of sportswriters and fans to clamor for reforming the NCAA's approach to regulating transfers. After Bo Ryan and Norm Chow blocked transfer requests for schools that were not only not in the same conference, but hundreds of miles away, I suggested preventing coaches from blocking requests, and maybe even allowing all out student-athlete free agency.
The NCAA heard the complaints, and has suggested something fairly close to that. According to the Bylaw Blog's John Infante, the NCAA is considering a proposal to do away with the 1-year wait rule for transfers.
The four point proposal includes:
- Athletes would still need to get permission to contact another school before transferring. But permission would be tied to practice and competition, not athletics aid. So even if permission was denied, the student-athlete would still be able to receive a scholarship.
- Athletes who qualify for the transfer exemption in the APR would be permitted to play immediately at the new school. That would make a 2.600 GPA the magic number to play immediately.
- Athletes who do not qualify to play immediately at the next school would still receive an extension of their five-year clock so they can use all their eligibility.
- Tampering with an athlete by another school would be considered a severe breach of conduct, a Level I violation, the highest in the NCAA’s new enforcement structure.
The first bullet point means that coaches will still have some measure of control over where their students can transfer, albeit perhaps not quite as much as they did before. The next three bullets are the potentially revolutionary changes though. Currently, students-athletes must sit out a year if they are changing schools in D1, baring some extenuating circumstances that warrant a waiver. Potentially, students would be able to play immediately providing they meet the relatively modest GPA threshold of 2.6 .
On one hand, this appears perfectly fair. Virtually any other student or staff member can change schools without penalty, so why should athletes be any different? There are all sorts of reasons to want to transfer, like getting homesick, to wanting to be a in a different academic program, to athletic reasons. Tying that number to a GPA should provide an additional incentive for student athletes to take their academics seriously, especially if they are low on the depth chart. Infante says that , students who transfer at a 2.6 or higher GPA graduate at roughly the same rate as students who don't transfer, so this may actually be an example of the NCAA looking out for the academic interests of their students.
The potential athletic implications of this change however, are staggering, as it could usher straight up free agency in football and basketball. If you are a star player at a low to mid major, and have a few strong games in the NCAAs or late in the season, you're going to get a lot of national attention. Why continue to slug it out at a small school, when you could conceivably play your way to the big boys? Think back to last season, after C.J McCollum of Lehigh lit up Duke to lead the Mountain Hawks to the 15 seed upset. I would imagine that half of the ACC and Big East would be interested in his services.
The NCAA would try to combat this by making tampering a major NCAA violation, but is difficult to imagine how this could be enforced. Surely Roy Williams just wandering down to Leigh and calling McCollum up would be illegal, but what would stop Williams from contacting McCollum's old AAU or high school coach, or an intermediary, to communicate the UNC was interested? Policing interactions like that would be a nightmare, and given the already unsavory (and completely deserved) reputation of basketball recruiting, such player movement could be an invitation to make recruiting that much shadier.
Mass movement in football would be a little less likely, given the massive roster sizes and the need to beat out multiple players in the depth chart (just ask Danny O'Brien how his transfer went), but it would undoubtedly still happen. Programs like Ohio State would probably be the ones to benefit. Imagine if after the season, Urban Meyer gave a press conference stating how development at the wide receiver and linebacker positions had stalled, and the team would really need help at those spots...*wink* *wink*. You think that strong mid-major players all over the country wouldn't give Urban a call? How do you prevent that? It's hard to see how these rules wouldn't create a significant impediment for mid-major programs to sustain success.
Navigating a way around those powerful forces but still giving students more flexibility is a tough problem for the NCAA. They could consider removing the transfer rule for everybody except football and basketball players, which might help keep competitive balance but wouldn't really be fair for students. They could try to stem the tide of transfers by hiking the GPA benchmark to 3.0. That could give further incentives to do well in school, but could also encourage more fraud, and "price" some students out of transferring.
Cynically, the NCAA may know this happening and simply not care. Allowing the major programs to get strong may take away a little magic from the opening round of the NCAA tourney, but would likely provide more compelling action during the regular season and later rounds, as well as improve the chances for the traditional powers in football to succeed. If it makes the organization and conferences more money, I think many of us believe the NCAA would gladly sacrifice the Patriot Leagues and the MACs of the world for the ACCs and the Big Tens.
I applaud the NCAA for listening and taking up the cause of student athlete's for once. I'm not sure that this proposal, exactly how it is constructed, will lead to net positives for college athletics, but with some tweaking, a fair balance may be found.
If anything, it does look like the NCAA has their heart in the right place. After what we've seen the over the last year, they ought to at least get credit for that.